The NYT has a lengthy piece on how Apple has outsourced all of its manufacturing operations over the last two decades. This is seen as telling a larger story about the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Remarkably, the piece never once mentions exchange rates. This is a major determinant of relative prices. If the dollar rises by 30 percent against other currencies, as it did in the late 90s, then it becomes 30 percent more expensive to produce goods in the United States relative to other countries. This rise in the value of the dollar was the major factor behind the explosion in the trade deficit at the end of the 90s and at the beginning of the last decade.

The dollar is also supposed to be the mechanism through which trade is rebalanced. Large trade deficits are supposed to cause currencies to fall in value. This leads their deficits to move back toward balance. This has not happened to any significant extent with the United States in the last decade in large part because foreign governments have placed a high priority on accumulating large amounts of dollars, buying up trillions of dollars of U.S. government debt and other dollar denominated assets. If the dollar were allowed to fall to a level consistent with more balanced trade, then many manufacturing jobs would return to the United States.

The piece also treats the issue as one of being whether middle class manufacturing jobs can exist in the United States and be competitive. The United States is no more competitive with higher paying professional jobs, like doctors and lawyers. The main difference is that these are politically powerful groups who manage to maintain barriers that make it difficult for foreign professionals to come to the United States.

If the government had made the same commitment to eliminate barriers to foreigners in these professional services, it is likely that the pay of doctors, lawyers, and other highly educated professionals would be half or less of what it is today. The issue here is not one of skills, it is one of relative political power. The NYT should have presented the voice of someone who could have made this point.

The article also claims that the United States has a shortage of well-trained manufacturing workers. This assertion is contradicted by the fact that there is no large group of manufacturing workers for whom wages are rising rapidly, which would be the case if there were really a shortage.